Friday, July 14, 2000


In the not-too-distant future, a small number of humans have spontaneously developed a genetic mutation causing them to manifest random types of powerful abilities. These "mutants," despite being an infinitesimal minority within the human population, are viewed by much of mankind as a dangerous threat. US Senator Robert Kelly has created the Mutant Registration Act, which will force mutants to expose themselves to the public—thereby exposing themselves to the entire world's dangerous hatred. It seems that a war between humans and mutants is inevitable, and many are already arming for war. Some mutants, such as the villainous Magneto, have chosen to use their powers to preemptively strike against humanity, while other mutants—the X-Men, led by Professor Charles Xavier—have chosen to fight against violent mutants to protect the very humans who hate and fear them.

X-Men is rather unique among comic book films. At the time of its release in 2000, no other superhero film had truly attempted this level of grounded realism before. Some might point to 1998's Blade in that regard, but Blade has the advantage of being a horror fantasy film moreso than an obvious superhero movie. X-Men, on the other hand, presented an entirely new way of viewing the world of super-powered humans.

The character of Logan/Wolverine, played by Hugh Jackman, owns this film. He feels genuinely tough, believably rough-edged, yet very human. His cynical and disbelieving reactions to the somewhat outlandish circumstances surrounding the X-Men and their bizarre world allow for a certain degree of plausibility in what would otherwise seem like a silly story.

Magneto is one of the best comic book villains of all time, and he's played wonderfully here. He comes off not as a mustache-twirling evil-for-the-sake-of-evil villain, but rather someone with understandable motivations. Magneto is not entirely wrong in his beliefs—indeed, mutantkind is an oppressed minority that desperately needs support. However, the fact that he chooses to act through violence ironically makes him every bit as hateful and cruel as any human.

While Magneto is a greatly-realized character, all of the other villains in the movie are useless. The shape-shifting Mystique is mildly interesting and appears to have some type of character, but Toad and Sabretooth have no bearing on the story whatsoever. They are literally there just so the heroes have someone to fight, and they end up being more annoying than interesting.

The production values, overall, are very uneven. The directing, acting, and cinematography, especially in the film's first half, are excellent. However, the special effects are a little bit dodgy. The CGI is painfully 90s-esque, to the point why one wonders why they even decided to use CGI if it was going to look that bad. It doesn't diminish the overall film too badly, but it is a problem. Similarly, there's some bizarre bits of the film that seem incredibly cartoonish and out of step with the rest of the movie's dark tone.

It's truly remarkable how reverent to the source material this film is. For a fan of the X-Men books, watching this movie feels a little like stepping into a strange place where dreams become real. On the other hand, there are several major moments in the film—notably involving the silly-looking CGI and cheap stuntwork—that take it into a more cartoonish and less compelling area.

In the end, X-Men is a mostly well-done first attempt with the X-Men franchise, and sets a certain standard of grounded reality for superhero films to follow. It's not particularly epic or jaw-dropping, but it simply works.